This mockumentary presents itself as a San Fransisco-Area television broadcast of a formerly-banned BBC (renamed the ?BBS?) documentary about the C.S.A. The idea is that the Confederate ambassador to France and England persuaded them to enter the war on behalf of the south and thus the South won. The movie unfolds in a Ken Burns style, with stand-ins for people from the Civil War documentary and a regular update of the events up to today. The film is broken up by commercials from the modern C.S.A. landscape, in which a modern slave state still exists (or did well into the late 20th century).
The film is an interesting challenge, as it?s both funny and apt, with strong critique of our culture and our tendencies. The timeline is mostly believable, and the racist commercials really challenge the viewer. I?m reminded quite a bit of Bamboozled, which also takes on modern racism, but even more shockingly. The layer of mockumentary makes the film less gut-churning and discomfiting, though it still raises some interesting questions.
A few other thoughts:
* The production values are really great. The bits of traditional Americana worked into the film succeed marvelously. For instance, the film re-uses a JFK speech from 1960 in which he characterizes our struggle with USSR as one about ?freedom and slavery,? to suggest that JFK was an abolitionist. Also a gem: the clip of the 1940s movie ?I Married an Abolitionist.?
* I thought the plotline about the prominent American family whose sons regularly have a role in the government was a bit contrived ? it doesn?t really have an analogue.
* The bit at the end detailing some of the key imagery that resided in modern American consumer culture is particularly shocking. The two most shocking products to me: Niggerhair tobacco (a real brand that existed until the 1950s) and Darkie toothpaste (which was eventually changed to ?Darlie? but was still sold over seas as ?Black Man Toothpaste?). Good lord. The film also mentions Coon Chicken, which we all remember from Ghost World.
* One downside to this alternate history approach is that it varies things enough that it would be hard to bring this film back to talk about the actual plight of systemic racism and racial inequality still in play in our culture, particularly now that we have a black president and are suddenly ?post-racial.?